MARCH 31 MARKED the fifth anniversary of my retirement from fulltime work. Back then, I didn’t think I was retiring and I’m still not sure I really have retired. Instead, over the past five years, I’ve described myself as semi-retired. But a recent HumbleDollar article provided a better description of my situation: I’m in a “phased retirement.”
How have things gone, what have I learned and what would I have done differently?
WANT A HAPPIER, more fulfilling retirement? You work your entire life to get there, and you want to make the most of the time you’re given. But how? Here are my 10 rules for retirement:
1. Have a purpose and a plan, but be flexible. You might have devoted more than 70,000 hours to your career, so it wouldn’t be a big surprise if your work has become a huge part of your identity.
WHEN I RETIRED 10 years ago, I need to replace my biweekly paycheck. Because I was retiring early, and there would be no pension or Social Security for many years, my goal was to use savings to create a synthetic paycheck.
During my final few years of work, I prepared by channeling most of my paycheck into both taxable and tax-deferred accounts. My pay was much higher than what I needed for living expenses.
IF THERE WAS ANYONE who should have been emotionally unprepared to retire, it was me. In the years immediately before, I was at the top of my career. I’d been promoted to vice president. I had virtual total control over my job. I was recognized by nearly every employee because of my extensive employee benefits communications and the fact that I’d negotiated benefits for decades. I was among the few who routinely met with the company’s chairman.
I’VE FINALLY DECIDED when to claim my Social Security benefit. Along the way, I realized that calculating the ideal start date is easy—provided you can predict your retirement income needs (doable), your investment returns (hard), the inflation rate (hard), your future tax rate (hard), your date of death (hard) and what Congress will do in the future (impossible).
This particular financial journey began when I was preparing a recent blog post on the knotty issue of when to file.
LOTS OF RESEARCH has been done on the best way to generate retirement income. It’s one of the most popular topics on HumbleDollar. I think this popularity is driven by two things: its obvious importance—and the fact that there’s no one right answer.
By contrast, figuring out how much we need to save for retirement is relatively easy. It isn’t hard to pick a future retirement date, or at least a range of years during which we’ll likely retire,
THE SOCIAL SECURITY claiming decision is one of the most complex—and contentious—choices that retirees have to make.
I was reminded of that in December, while at a Christmas party. Two former colleagues were discussing their Social Security decision. Both are male, single, childless, retired engineers. Each has a traditional pension, a paid-off home and significant retirement savings. Ted is age 77. Fred is 66.
Ted took his Social Security at 62. His reason was longevity or,
THE DRUMBEAT of “retirement crisis” is much too loud. While 54% of retirees believe there’s a national retirement crisis, just 4% describe their own retirement situation as a crisis. And whereas 90% of recent retirees are able to spend freely, within reason, or can cover their needs and also engage in some discretionary spending, only 10% say that they’re on a strict budget.
Concern about running out of money is regularly exaggerated by inflated estimates of life expectancy.
I’LL ACKNOWLEDGE THAT today’s topic isn’t the most upbeat. I want to talk about risk—and, specifically, some of the underappreciated risks related to retirement.
In thinking about risk, the hardest part—in my view—is that it defies a single definition. Because of that, there’s no uniform yardstick for measuring it and thus no single strategy for managing it. As Howard Marks states in his book The Most Important Thing, “Much of risk is subjective,
PREPARING FOR infirmity is one of the most important—and least popular—parts of financial planning. A neighbor’s recent stroke provides a stark example of this challenge. He’s in his mid-80s and has some underlying health problems.
Our neighbor lives in a second-story condominium, with external stairs as access. The stairs end at a narrow deck, with a right-hand turn into the home. An overhang blocks the screen door from opening fully.
When he had a stroke,
I LEARNED TO LIVE a lot more cheaply after I lost my job at age 58—and that’s allowed me to retire with a less-than-average income.
After getting laid off, I spent 18 months searching unsuccessfully for a position that reflected my experience and education. I ended up taking an administrative office job at 40% less pay.
Although I was already a thrifty and cautious person, my life became a lot leaner for the next four years,
“HELP, I’VE FALLEN and I can’t get up.”
It wasn’t too many years ago that I viewed that commercial as humorous. No more. A few days ago, my wife slipped on a curb and fell. No serious injury, just a cut on her lip and a scraped leg. But she couldn’t get up. Thankfully, my sons were there to help. I couldn’t do it on my own. My wife’s arthritis makes it difficult for her to walk long distances or climb stairs,
ONE OF MY FAVORITE movies is based on A Christmas Carol, the Charles Dickens classic. It’s about the mean and miserable Ebenezer Scrooge, a money lender who constantly bullies his poor clerk, Bob Cratchit, and rejects his nephew Fred’s wishes for a merry Christmas.
Scrooge lives only for money. He has no real friends or family, and cares only about his own well-being. As the story goes, on Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by three ghosts.
AMERICANS THINK they need an average $1.9 million to retire, according to a survey of 401(k) plan participants by Charles Schwab. Years ago, a finding like that would have terrified me.
I worked really hard in my younger years and socked away money diligently. But between paying off the mortgage, saving for the kids’ education and being hit by an unexpected divorce, there’s no way I could ever have amassed $1.9 million.
Still, I’ve learned to live well in retirement.
I JUST TURNED 62. That’s the milestone age when so much of the magic—and the decision-making—of retirement begins to happen.
For the record, although I recently left the workforce early to pursue a long-simmering passion for writing, I won’t be starting Social Security payments early. Nor—unless something changes health-wise—do I intend to begin distributions from my IRAs any time soon. Before I go down those two routes, I plan to live off my taxable-account savings and minimal dividend income for as long as I can.